By Molly Bowman-Styles
Apparently, we’re not in this together.
Now, it feels like a dream, but eight weeks ago, San Diegans stepped into a void of uncertainty, united in a common purpose: Protecting our families, friends and neighbors from the coronavirus, the highly contagious carrier of COVID-19.
Accepting stay-at-home-orders and social distancing with grace and grit, San Diegans rose to meet an existential challenge: adjusting to the realities of civic life during a global pandemic.
We watched, in wonder, as nature exhaled, delighted to discover our lives assuming a slower, more deliberate pace, resonant with deeper meaning.
We smiled as Christmas lights made a delightful Easter-season comeback. Chalk art messages of hope decorated sidewalks and driveways. Yellow ribbons adorned trees. Birthday celebrations became joyful drive-by affairs. San Diegans clamored to discover meaningful ways to honor doctors, nurses and first responders with heartfelt expressions of admiration and gratitude.
The desire to be of service — reaching out to the lonely, frightened and less fortunate — shattered the surface of our self-absorbed existence. We rolled up our sleeves and pitched in: sewing reams of surgical masks, concocting batches of homemade hand-sanitizer, and serving breakfast and lunch to hungry students on shuttered school campuses.
We gamely wore face coverings on essential trips to the grocery store and pharmacy, believing doing so was not a burden, but our social responsibility.
And then, in a single tweet, the spell was broken.
Within minutes, two tweets followed in rapid succession: “LIBERATE Michigan!” and “LIBERATE Virginia, And save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”
Suddenly, images of angry demonstrators filled smartphone and television screens across America. These disturbing scenes of sound and fury flourished on a life force of derision, discord and fear. Shouting for an end to stay-at-home orders, while flouting the common-sense rules of social distancing, protestors demanded of governors the unthinkable: choosing economic resuscitation over the health their constituents.
Here at home, a handful of Republican elected officials jumped into the fray. Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey provoked a tsunami of public outrage over the closure of public beaches. When that controversy had run its course, Oceanside City Councilman Christopher Rodriguez pressed on the accelerator, prodding non-essential city businesses and houses of worship to violate COVID-19 protocols by opening their doors, ahead of schedule, and urging residents to ignore county-and-state-mandated regulations by patronizing them.
Although on display for nearly a month, these acts of partisan theatrics — emotionally charged and lacking the backdrop of scientific data — are not changing the hearts and minds of public opinion.
A recent PBS/Marist poll showed a majority of Americans is uncomfortable with reopening the economy. Eighty-five percent of respondents said it was unwise to reopen schools, and 80 percent had reservations about allowing restaurants to open dining rooms to customers. Asked if people should return to work, respondents preferred a more cautious approach to jumping back into “business as usual,” with 65 percent saying to reopen the economy now would not be a good idea.
Apparently, coronavirus pandemic stay-at-home orders have given many Americans an unexpected gift: the time and space to rediscover the better angels of our nature.
As we look forward to exercising our right to vote in the pivotal November general election, let’s listen intently to their voices, calling us to tune out the voices of partisan conflict and focus on the destiny of our greater common good: the Founding Fathers’ audacious vision of a more perfect union.
A second-generation San Diegan, Molly Bowman-Styles is the president of Windansea Communications.
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